A key rollover witness in an Illawarra murder trial was allegedly bashed inside his prison cell on Tuesday night by the very man he was set to testify against.
The Mercury understands a NSW Corrective Services error saw both men placed in the same cell at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater on Tuesday night, ahead of their scheduled transfer to Wollongong Courthouse on Wednesday morning to attend court proceedings.
Sources say both men were put on the same prisoner transport for the drive to Wollongong and for a time shared a holding cell below the courthouse before they were quickly separated when the error was realised.
The witness, whose identity is suppressed by court order, arrived at the courthouse on Wednesday morning suffering injuries, the result of an alleged bashing the night before.
The scheduled hearing for the murder charge did not proceed and the case was adjourned for further mention and for another hearing date to be set.
Corrective Services commissioner Peter Severin confirmed an investigation had already begun when the Mercury contacted him on Wednesday afternoon.
“Corrective Services NSW has launched a full investigation into allegations of an inmate on inmate assault,” he said in a written statement.
“CSNSW is reviewing CCTV footage and other security systems from a number of locations.
“The inmate was treated for minor injuries at Wollongong Court cells.
“We are deeply regretful these inmates were placed together and will perform a thorough review of the allegations.”
Mr Severin said CSNSW used strict guidelines to manage thousands of inmates in protective custody and on non-association orders to ensure they are moved safely between jails and courthouses throughout the state.
However, he would not comment on what apparent failures in protocol, if any, led to Tuesday night’s incident.
Corrections Minister David Elliott confirmed on Thursday that the two men were placed in the same area of the holding system despite them being subject to a “non-association order”.
"I've demanded an immediate explanation from Corrective Services about how this has happened, and reassurance that it will not be repeated," he said.
"If departmental disciplinary action must be taken, then it will be."
The investigation follows allegations some NSW prison guards have had sexual and romantic relationships with inmates.
A special task force, to be led by former NSW Police assistant commissioner Mark Murdoch, was set up to investigate alleged misconduct over the past decade.
Corrective Services is also working to accommodate a swelling inmate population while restructuring its workforce - including laying off middle-management - amid fierce opposition from unions.
The coalition government insists it is investing in the system while creating a workforce with more boots on the frontline.